Smithsonian A Hit: Qui Bono?

Is Burning Man cashing in from their Smithsonian exposure, right before the big cash-out of the “Original Founders”?

Here is some of the coverage of No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick gallery:

Smithsonian web site

Smithsonian magazine

Bloomberg

Billboard

CNN

DJ Mag

Fast Company

Architectural Record

Artsy

Washington.org

The New York Times asked “Will the Spirit of Burning Man Art Survive in Museums?”

Recently, they announced a deal with Intel and Linden Labs, creators of Second Life – home of the Burn2 cyberspace regional Burn.

Sansar and Intel remake the Smithsonian’s art of Burning Man exhibit in VR (updated)

Will there be a Burning Man: IMAX 3D now?

It is great that big corporations like Intel are patrons of the arts. To whom does that patronage flow? Qui bono: who benefits? Burners?

The Smithsonisan exhibit, all the media attention around it, and now immersive HD multimedia experiences are creating a lot of value.

Where is that value going? It is going to the brand. Who owns the brand? A private company. Who are the directors of that company? Well, it does not appear to be who they told us the controllers were when we first exposed the existence of Decommodifcation, LLC.

There’s been a bit of discussion in our recent Rockstar Librarian post by trolls who think if you are going to write about Burning Man on your blog, you should be expected to pay for other peoples’ art projects from your own pocket, and you must never criticize the founders.

All of the founders made millions of dollars from the corporatization of Burning Man, and I don’t begrudge them that. I’ve never criticized them for that. They chose to sell it for the lowest possible value to the Burning Man project, which did have the effect of increasing the size of the tax breaks they all received for donating the Org to the 501(c)3 – an organization controlled by themselves, with public reporting requirements, which never pays tax. That’s just a fact. There’s no need to doxx the founders’ financial situations, this was all information publicly discussed on their web site and in the newspapers at the time.

Did they earn a lot of money previously to that transaction, that they needed a tax break to cover? We may never know, but A Balanced Perspective has provided evidence to support his analysis that the annual salaries suddenly leaped from about 2 million a year in 2009 to about 8 million a year in 2010, where it stayed for a few years before the transition was “complete”. Where did all that money go? The workers? It definitely did not go to the artists.

We exposed in Decommodification, Inc and Clarification of Decommodification that what really went on with Burning Man’s “transition to a non-profit” was not entirely altruistic. Less well publicized was the creation of a private company in 2010 called Decommodifcation, LLC that held all the actual value of Burning Man. There were various statements made by various founders around the time. Here’s what Larry said. First:

I will address two lingering perplexities. It has been asked if we intend to reveal the financial records of Black Rock City LLC. The answer is yes; that too will happen at about the same time as the Burning Man Project reveals its information—these two entities will then become a clean well-lighted suite of rooms thrown open for inspection. But I cannot guaranty that even this amount of disclosure will satisfy everyone. Even then, I suppose that some will look for skeletons in closets, or search for sliding walls that might conceal a dungeon.

[Source: burningman.org]

This did not in fact happen. Black Rock LLC’s financial records are still secret. The new organization, The Burning Man Project, is required to disclose their IRS Form 990, which is a publicly available document. They revealed what they are required to by law, and very little more. They arranged a story in Philanthropy magazine that they then pointed to as “proof” that they became more transparent. See 2014 Afterburn Report: The Death of Transparency and A Balanced Perspective’s guest post Unlikely Leader in Transparency.

The public information reveals not so much a dungeon as a giant treasure chest. Enormous amounts of cash that are being kept in the coffers. The financial reports in prior years disclosed more to the community. And the reason they were public in the first place? Because the community makes Burning Man. We The People have a right to know, because our money creates the Org to deal with the cops and the road signs and the lighting of The Man. We want to be sure our money is well spent, and not wasted on international junkets to festivals by the year round staff. The new reporting format does not deliver this, at all. There appears to be absolutely zero oversight of these matters.

As A Balanced Perspective pointed out, in an interview with Scribe in the SF Bay Guardian at the time the transition was first announced in 2011 they mentioned a second payout:

Yet Harvey and the other board members, such as Michael Mikel and Marian Goodell, insist that the board plays an important role in shepherding the event and the culture that has grown up around it, which is why they plan on waiting three years to turn control of the event over to the new nonprofit, the Burning Man Project, and another three years after that until they liquidate their ownership of the name and associated trademarks and are paid for their value.

This certainly suggests a further payout is due, one based on the value of the trademarks (very high) rather than the operating business (quite low). Control of the event was handed over to the non-profit The three years mentioned coincides with the planned dissolution of Decommodification, LLC. Which should be now. I couldn’t find any mention of it at all in the 2017 Annual Report.

Back to Larry:

So let me make one last comment regarding Decommodification LLC, which is viewed by some as a sort of sinister outbuilding that is separate from both the event organization and the Burning Man Project. My fellow founders and I are the sole members of this entity whose chief property is the name “Burning Man”. This too will be transferred to the non-profit in three years time, unless the partners elect “not” to do so by a unanimous vote. This arrangement is designed to force our hand.

The Burning Man event organization has used this trademark power to protect our community’s culture from being exploited. We have done this very diligently over several years (it is a right of ownership that must exercised, or it will perish). Furthermore, we have not relied on licensing this intellectual property as a source of revenue. The reason for this 3-year interval is that even we do not invest blind faith in the new non-profit’s workings, and we want to be perfectly sure that it can be relied upon, in the face of temptations that arise within any organization when dealing with power or money, to pursue the policies that we have practiced.

[Source: burningman.org]

Larry is saying that unless the partners vote unanimously to stop it, the intellectual property held by Decommodification LLC transfers to the Burning Man Project this year – presumably triggering a large payout. Who are the partners? The story at the time was that this was the “6 Founders” of Burning Man. Who is it today? According to Corporation Wiki, something different.

Without Larry (may he Rest in Peace), that leaves Marian and Harley as managing members, along with Crimson Rose and Director of Finance Doug Robertson who seems to have been engineering this corporate restructure since he joined in 2009. Will they vote to pass all the intellectual property back to the Burning Man Project? Or will they vote to keep it where it is, in a private company with no oversight that owns assets worth (at least) tens of millions of dollars that they completely control? We know that Decommodification LLC earns royalties from the Burning Man Project for the use of the trademarks. As best we can tell, it’s $75,000 per year. How much do museums pay? How much gets earned from documentaries, soundtracks, calendars, and other users of the brand? This information is a closely guarded secret.

We have already seen the legal resources of The Burning Man Project being employed to protect the value of the intellectual property owned by Decommodification, LLC.

Time flies. “It’s already been a few years, what’s a few more”? From the 2014 thread discussing the transition at Burning Man’s site; my opinions have not changed in the past 4 years:

A great comment along these lines from Dave:

[Source: burningman.org]

One of the things mentioned at the time of the transition was the concept of a “Dead Man’s Switch”. Danger Ranger was rather proud of having inserted this:

The sole purpose of Decommodification LLC is to protect the Burning Man name and I’ve programmed it to automatically dissolve after its mission is completed. Larry has the last word on the Transition discussion. (But I am pleased to note that I am the one who programmed the deadman switch into Decommodification LLC.)

[Source: Danger Ranger Facebook post, 2014]

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? “Don’t worry about anything because I programmed it to automatically dissolve”. It is easy for these people to say things, but you have to use logic, not just listen to the words. Organizations that deal in the truth don’t employ Ministers of Propaganda. From the Bylaws of the Burning Man Project:

The clause above says “nobody can make any money off Burning Man”, which is the argument One Who Doesn’t Know This Dude has been making. But…there’s a but. It also says “except the Founders”.

Here’s what Larry said at the BJ:

The truth is that the Burning Man Project now employs all but one of the former owners of Black Rock City LLC.

This means we have surrendered all rights of ownership.

But that wasn’t the truth. The truth is they didn’t surrender all rights of ownership. It’s there in black and white in the bylaws.

If the “sole purpose” of Decommodification LLC was to dissolve itself once the transition to a non-profit was complete, there would be no reason for this exception clause to be in the bylaws that constitute the organization. It could be covered as part of the sale agreement, or the contract that the “three year dissolution” clause is in (if that is a different document). Instead, it appears that it was extremely important for the founders to put that in the bylaws. Their right to profit from the IP cannot be taken away, ever. I can’t find any mention in the bylaws of this Dead Man’s Switch, which is strange because the bylaws describe many other situations that require unanimous consent of the directors.

Likewise, if Decommodification LLC is designed to self-destruct as soon as the org has adjusted to being a non-profit, why did they amend the ticket terms and conditions with this?

Here’s what the Org said in their 2013 Afterburn Report

Burning Man is much bigger today than when the new Burning Man Project entity was announced in 2011 then announced as complete in 2014.

More than 4 years later, and the true value of Burning Man is still in a private company, not the non-profit. So how can the “transition to a non-profit” be complete?

IP = Intellectual Property = Intangible Assets. It is the brand of Burning Man that lets them charge $1200 a ticket to create Black Rock City. It is the brand that sells out the Smithsonian with lines around the block. And it is the brand that does a licensing deal with Intel and Second Life.

This exhibit is just the start. They can take that on the road, and with so much Burner art sitting in warehouses, they can curate multiple exhibits. When a museum hosts a Burning Man exhibit, is that gifted? If Intel makes promotional videos about virtual reality there, is that gifted? Do these corporations make a donation to the Burning Man Project? Or do they pay a royalty to Decommodification, LLC? Or both?

From the 2017 Annual Report:

Museums and Public Art

This feels like a new chapter in Burning Man’s history for multiple reasons. The fact that traditional arts and culture institutions are interested in curating Burning Man exhibitions is remarkable, but it’s important to note that these institutions came to us seeking a collaboration because they recognize Burning Man as an important arts and cultural movement (something we’ve all known for a long time). Not only are the work and stories produced by our culture seen as legitimate, they’re relevant, perhaps even necessary.

And it’s a healthy creative challenge to figure out how best to create a Burning Man experience for museum goers and participants outside of the great “tabula rasa” in the desert, while protecting and celebrating the things that make Burning Man so decidedly special and different. It has always been interesting to ask what the outside world finds meaningful about Burning Man, but given this new level of interest, there’s a new, more interesting question: What is it about this moment in history that makes Burning Man so relevant?

I hope that Larry’s vision as he originally explained it is realized, but that hasn’t happened yet. Instead it seems like the Burning Man experience is being packaged up for consumers in museums. Commodified.

If the year-round philosophy center at Fly Ranch gets built as it has been described to us for many years, awesome. If the road gets upgraded and local community concerns get addressed, awesome. If we can deal with the trash and environmental damage of 100,000 people, awesome. If everything owned by “Decommodification LLC” gets handed back from that private and secretive company to the registered non-profit, as was promised for 2018, awesome.

Until we see those things, the idea that “everything will be awesome!” is a LEGO kids movie. You have to consider the track record here. My opinions are formed carefully and backed with supporting evidence. Many of them have already proven true over the years. As for the ones above, I am hoping for “awesome”. Even after everything we have seen and discovered since my involvement began in the 90’s, I still hold out hope. Because Black Rock City is built by THE PEOPLE, not the fucking Org. It is the amazing artists who should be sharing in the spoils, not living year-round on the poverty line in dangerous fire trap warehouses, committing suicide in despair, etc. while a select few reap the rewards and the glory.

Larry Harvey said many times “Burning Man is a model for the future of civilization”. Synarchy is the wrong model.

Burning Man Unofficial Founder Dies

John Perry Barlow first went to Burning Man in 1994, and has been a key shaker and mover of the event ever since.

He has shared a stage with his friend Larry Harvey many times, notably in a session called The Founders Speak at Columbia University in 2013.

barlow larry

John Perry Barlow, left, on stage with Larry Harvey at Black Rock City

He passed away peacefully in his sleep after a long battle with illness. He died on the 22nd anniversary of his famous Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace.

He wrote 57 songs for the Grateful Dead, and founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Obituaries at Rolling Stone, EFFVariety, Ars Technica, Jambase

barlow and friend

Barlow was definitely one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever met. He touched the lives of many Burners and technologists. He managed Dick Cheney’s first electoral campaign, and John F Kennedy Jr was sent to Barlow’s Bar Cross Ranch to “straighten him out”. He went from trying to blow up Harvard and hanging out at Timothy Leary’s Millbrook Acid Castle to consulting to the intelligence community.

Screenshot 2018-02-08 14.52.53

His interview with Larry Harvey and Tech Crunch’s Mike Butcher in London kicked off my whole Shadow History research project.

 

A couple of his best interviews:

John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident (Wesleyan Alumni magazine)

The Legend of John Perry Barlow, Jambase (via Internet Archive)

RIP Barlow, true pioneer of the electronic frontier. You will be missed.

natacha weir bob barlow

John Perry Barlow at Bob and Natascha Weir’s wedding, Mill Valley 1999

Founded On Fire Magick

Fest300 has just published a lengthy interview with Burning Man Founder Crimson Rose. Are they the new Voices of Burning Man?

The article is very interesting and I encourage you to read it in its entirety at Fest300. I want to highlight in particular the occult and marketing aspects of this. The emphasis is ours:

Every year, hundreds of accomplished fire performers throughout the world wipe sweat from their brows, cross their fingers and submit an audition reel for the experience of a lifetime. If accepted, these “conclaves” are granted exclusive access to the Holy of Holies at the godfather of transformational festivals: the Great Circle at Burning Man . They’ll be among the select few taking part in a ritualized fire dance as a gift to all the fest’s participants, and as tribute to the epic burning of “the Man.”

Out of all the myriad forms of artistic expression found at festivals today, many are grandiose achievements by incredible men. But the hearty warmth, nurturing, and acceptance that pervade these places are divinely feminine. Perhaps the archetype who best captures this quality is Crimson Rose , the fire performance community’s celebrated heroine and a founding board member at Burning Man.

Often hailed as “the godmother of fire arts” (she was the first-ever fire dancer on the playa), Crimson reviews conclave auditions with a panel of legends to select the crème de la crème for the ceremony. Year after year, fire performers strive just to be a part of her continued legacy by pouring their souls into their Burning Man performances so the tradition is passed with grace on to the next generation.

To learn more about this sacred art, we caught up with Crimson Rose, who graciously took some time with us to talk about the origins of fire performance, the history of fire dance at Burning Man and the future of man’s first invention in the festival community.

Before joining the Burning Man community in her current role, Crimson was a fine art model and dancer for 27 years. In the 80s, a good friend passed along the art of fire dancing. Coming from a background in theater and dance she took to it quickly and fostered an intimate relationship with flames.

And when they say “intimate relationship” in this puff piece glowing tribute, they’re not kidding:

“…to me, that was really the journey of magic that I discovered not only within myself, but in fire dance itself.”

In those days, everybody danced but nobody danced with fire. What Burners now enjoy out on the esplanade is an evolution of many ancient dancing-based traditions – which only became more tribal once flames were introduced. “I don’t do poi and I don’t do staff,” she said. “My dancing is really handling torches and a bowl of fire, dipping them into the fire and laying that on my body.

Sometimes called fleshing, this technique has been passed down through tribal civilizations for generations. It’s sensual and intimate, and sparks a very special rapport with fire, both for the viewer and the performer.

Righty-ho. Nothing too occult about that is there, worshipping fire so intimately that you want it laying on your body, “sensually”. Perfectly normal behavior, everyone does it, Marge Simpson‘ll be into next.

When we asked about her first-ever dance, she said, “I discovered things about myself because I felt like the fire was a sort of essence of all life. Although, it really is more a phenomena in some sense because there’s a magic to it…That magic, for a lot of fire performers, is the hottest part of the flame…“It was also as if the fire was sort of leading me on its own journey. Sort of provoking me to bring it to life.””

Burning Man Darren Keith Processional

In this photo by Darren Keith, note the Devil Horns on all the keepers of the sacred flame, who stride like giants above us in their Procession to The Man

Without question, this person believes that this is a magick ritual she is performing, in the much larger magick ritual of Burning Man. She was recruited into the Organization Project in 1990 – 7 years before Harry Potter came out – specifically to perform this magickal role.

The Man looked a little different back in 1986

The Man looked a little different back in the early days

We asked how she got involved with this desert social experiment in the first place. She thought for a bit, and took us back to a time before that first dance, to an email and a phone call with the man often accredited with launching Burning Man, Larry Harvey himself. “In 1990, I had a conversation with Larry Harvey and he talked about a thing they were doing. He had sent me a video of what they did the year before. It was really dark. It was a lot of fire and I couldn’t figure out what the hell they were doing.”

…she said to herself sarcastically. “I’m gonna be really cool because I don’t know what the hell these people are doing. They started pulling and a man raised up, and something clicked in me.” Crimson explained. “I didn’t know what it was. But I knew that I had to go to the desert.” Footage from the prior year continued to beckon her to visit. Seeing a man in the film breath the fire that ignited the effigy was enough to inspire the trip.

Igniting the effigy, from the magickal cauldron called El Diabla. Inside the pentagram and the 0.666% circle.

“I always felt like I was sort of a freak. You know, that I never fit in. Not with my family. Not with the school. And all of a sudden I felt like I was among my family in the desert.”

Yep, that’s the marketing pitch. Play to the social element, give the reason why all the freaks should buy tickets to this transformational festival. They don’t have to look beautiful and glamorous and cool like the people at other festivals. But maybe once they spend $400 and brainwash themselves at the self-service cult, they will walk away feeling Burnier-Than-Those People.

Back to the occult bits:

At the center of her magnetic attraction this new subculture was this effigy, over which Crimson grew protective. In one of her first encounters with it, “one of the very first things I did is I had these 16-foot-wide silk wings that I wore as I climbed the Man.” People were astonished to look up and see what looked like a fairy climbing to the top of the figure’s shoulder. “I felt like that at that point, I was the protector for the Man. If the man was going to be released we had to do it in the best way that we could, so that year I got a chance to actually help set him on fire.” For the first time, the magic of dance kicked off the legendary ceremony.

Dance, magic dance.

We must all worship the fire. Like Druids.

Despite an urge to push the envelope every year, rules now exist with a sort of informal reverence for the Great Circle. The fire is hallowed and respected

…Fire dancing at Burning Man spawned greater mysticism and creative energy, along with an appreciation for the accompanying rituals and traditions from which fire dancing came.

The flame that Burns the man is lit in a magickal cauldron named El Diabla. Image: Dust to Ashes/Flickr

The flame that Burns the man is lit in a magickal cauldron named El Diabla. Image: Dust to Ashes/Flickr

Image: Blip.TV documentary on Helco

Image: Blip.TV documentary on Helco

“Spawning greater mysticism” is presented here as a positive. Is this black magick, or white magick? It happens at night in a pentagram with people wearing devil horns and a fire lit from a cauldron named El Diabla; the corporation they started around it chose to launch with Helco parties where they got a lawyer to draw up contracts for people to sell their souls to the Devil. It seems pretty obvious to me which side we’re talking about, but your mileage may vary.

The suggestion that Crimson Rose invented incorporating  fire dancing in sacred rituals at Burning Man in 1991 is ridiculous, as anyone who has been to a South Pacific island could tell you.  

Back to the sales pitch:

One of the great joys of Burning Man is that it provides a space for us to go and learn about one another and ourselves through such rituals. Those who travel to the playa often report feeling more distant from what is familiar. Many, like Crimson Rose, find deeper connection. This will be her 24th Burn on the playa, and she told me, “Every time I go I feel I’m coming back to a place I’ve always been. You know, it sort of reminds me of home.” [Source: Fest300]

mcsatans

Image: Geek Times

Even in the sales pitch there are quite strong occult and psychological elements.

I’m not sure how things could be made more clear to you, people. This is one of the Founders of Burning Man laying out for you specifically what goes on, what she was recruited into the organization to add to their Project.

An occult black magick ritual ceremony of fire dance. It’s more than just a rave in the desert…


 

We have published quite a few articles on the spiritual and occult side of Burning Man in the past. We have a lot of new readers now who probably have never seen some of our earlier work, I would encourage you to check these out: and think for yourself.

2014:

 The Magickal Symbols Are Displayed, The Occult Ritual Can Commence

Brainwashing: the New Billionaire Obsession

Creating God in the Digital Age

Satanists With Guns

2013:

Magic On A Grand Scale

2012:

Seeking Divine Truth at Burning Man

Finding Jesus at Burning Man – a Christian perspective

“Theater in a Crowded Fire” – Spirituality, Burning Man, and the Apocalypse – Neo-Paganism

Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow – Paganism, Wicca, Druids, Lucifer

Ghost Trancing on Sacred Lands – Native American

Burner Principles vs the 10 Native American Commandments – Native American

Burner Fundamentalism – Burning Man’s own religion

Looking for the Next Evolutionary Step – Buddhism and consciousness

 

 

2014 Afterburn Report: The Death of Transparency

spend_money_good_time_442305We’ve been duped, Burners. For 4 years now, we’ve been sold on a “pie in the sky” vision. Burning Man would no longer be about exploiting volunteer labor and the financial and artistic contributions of Burners, to create profits for a small group operating in near-secrecy without oversight. Instead, it would now be a charity, with our tax-free deductions supporting an altruistic vision to bring Burning Man’s Principles to the world. The Founders would step down, but leave the infrastructure in place to maintain the integrity of Burner values into the next century.

A noble vision, but here’s what really happened:

  • the Founders set up a private company and transferred the main assets of the business to it; this company earns royalties for the use of the Burning Man name, logo and trademarks
  • the Founders each got a $1 million+ tax break for passing their share of future profits from the LLC over to the new tax-exempt non-profit
  • transparency was removed, except for public IRS Forms which were filed late.
  • people who had given substantial amounts of their lives volunteering for Burning Man, were arbitrarily shunted out the door to make room for new, paid employees.
  • ticket prices went up, revenues doubled
  • it got harder for veteran Burners to attend, while remaining relatively easy for Virgins

bravenewworld_cover_large

Rather than the transparency we’ve been promised for so many years, and a new BMOrg focused on charitable works, we get higher ticket prices, more revenue streams, and more secrecy. I’m not so sure that Burning Man has jumped the corporate shark – it seems more like it’s been eaten by it.

The new Afterburn report is buried deep in the new web site. If you read “Voices of Burning Man”, the section of the new site that seems to actually update, you’d have no clue about it. If you go to burningman.org, there’s nothing on the main page. If you navigate their menu system – The Culture, The Event, The Network, Stuff & Things – you will have to really dig to find anything about it (the correct sequence is Menu, The Culture, Historical Archives, Black Rock City History, Afterburn Reports, 2014 Afterburn Report). Basically, to read the Afterburn, you need to subscribe to the Jackrabbit Speaks or click this link.

This year’s report begins with the type of statement we’re used to seeing from this crew:

Our AfterBurn reports will continue as they have since 2001, except they’ll now be consolidated, and focus exclusively on the production of the event in Black Rock City.

“Continue as they have since 2001” in OrgSpeak means “be completely different from how they have been since 2001”.

The word “consolidated” in this context means “much smaller”. Significantly, BMOrg are no longer publishing Burning Man’s financial chart. This was always an incomplete document, since for some reason they didn’t share their revenues; we had to make assumptions based on ticket and ice sales. At least it highlighted things like BMOrg spending more on travel and costumes for themselves than they did on donations and art for the community. Read our analysis for 2013 and 2012, as well as the IRS returns for Burning Man Project 2013 and Black Rock Arts Foundation 2013.

BMOrg continue to insist that transparency is still “coming soon”:

Separately, Burning Man will begin producing an annual report, in addition to the yearly IRS Form 990 financial reporting. That report will focus on Burning Man’s nonprofit activities and year-round global programming, as well as updates about Burning Man’s organizational infrastructure and support departments (such as Communications, Technology, Legal, Accounting, Human Resources, etc.).

Given that we just got the 2013 information in February 2015, it seems unlikely that we will be able to have any meaningful discussion about Burning Man 2014 for a year and a half after the event. What’s the point of that? It seems like it would be fairly straightforward to ask the various department heads to write a brief report on the event by December 1, then post these to burningman.org. What do we gain by waiting a year and a half? This is all for charity, right – so why not have openness, sharing, participation, communal effort, civic responsibility, radical self expression, radical inclusion? Why run it like a typical profit-driven corporation, where any disclosure of information must be signed off by the Board and PR team? The event is sold out, so it’s not like their revenues are at risk. At this point, the global culture will grow from participation and authenticity, not exclusion, hypocrisy and secrecy.

BMOrg have just had professional auditors going through the books for 2013 and 2014: will these accounts be published? It seems very, very unlikely.

It is now well more than a year since Larry Harvey said

larry worldIt has been asked if we intend to reveal the financial records of Black Rock City LLC. The answer is yes; that too will happen at about the same time as the Burning Man Project reveals its information—these two entities will then become a clean well-lighted suite of rooms thrown open for inspection.

So will there be an event in the future when “the Burning Man Project reveals its information”? Or did he just mean the IRS Form 990 filings? I’m not holding my breath. Right now, it seems that there is no intention to EVER reveal the financial records of Black Rock City LLC.

In January, Communications Director Megan Miller told the Reno Gazette-Journal:

megan miller“It is definitely incomplete information,” said Megan Miller, communications director for Burning Man Project.

While all of the information required from the Internal Revenue Service is in the documents, Miller said, Burning Man cannot yet disclose revenue information from this past year’s festival, nor the one prior since the organization currently is undergoing an outside audit for 2013 and 2014.

All of this missing information that Burners have been seeking should be available before this year’s end, Miller said

The audit has been signed off, so what are they waiting for? Still counting the money? Or perhaps, so busy counting the $30.5 million from 2015’s ticket sales that what happened in the past doesn’t occupy much attention any more.

The increase in ticket prices and population cap over the last few years has led to a massive windfall for BMOrg, but only a slight increase in the number of art projects sponsored by Burning Man. Artists still have to raise funds themselves, half to two-thirds of project cost.

Screenshot 2015-04-03 09.34.23

For 2014, $800,000 was spent on art, across 61 projects – an average of $13,115 per project. There were another 200 art installations placed on the Playa without any financial support from BMOrg.

And what of the giving back to the community? It’s now more than halfway through the 2014-2015 Burn year, and more than a year since BMOrg “fully completed their transition to a non-profit”. So we should be able to point to lots of great outreach activity, right? Maybe I just can’t find that section of their website. There’ve been a few TED talks and panel discussions.

They’ve gone from “the only things we sell are ice and coffee, and all proceeds from that go to local charities” to “the Arctica volunteers donate their tips to charity” – which was about $13,000 last year.

Perhaps when we finally get to see the 2014 financial information for the Burning Man Project, it will describe some wonderful things that the self-appointed custodians of Burner culture have done to promote it, and we can all feel like we’re saving the world together. Maybe we’ll see a new, fair contract for the artists, when the art grant recipients for 2015 are publicly announced.

Remember 6 months ago, when the community was outraged about the Burning Man Project Director running an expensive Commodification camp with dozens of paid employees? The Minister of Propaganda told us:

(shhhh, just between you and us …) we’re working on a really really BIG project that will serve to tell the Burning Man story as it is today and into the future, and it’s gonna be RAD. You’ll know it when you see it.

Could we get the rad thing now, please? Pretty please?

tanabaumBuried within the latest Jackrabbit was the news that Jim Tananbaum has stepped down from the board of the Burning Man Project. This could’ve been a positive, if it had happened in response to the crisis, showing that BMOrg listened to the community.  Instead they published his statement blaming all his paid employees for his camp’s problems, and lecturing us on what a great example of the Ten Principles it all was. The resignation now comes as too little, too late to have any meaning. We’ve seen what BMOrg’s real response to the AirBnB-ing of Burning Man has been: “camps that get placement have to have an interactive element”. Or, in OrgSpeak: “all systems go, plug-n-players! Charge as much as you like, employ as many sherpas as you like, just buy the $800 VIP tickets. Get your Citibank Gold festival packages now!”

 

Who’s The Best Burning Man Talker?

In 2011, BMOrg announced their change to a non-profit on a mission to save the world. Since then, we sure have seen a lot of panel discussions and jetsetting from Larry & Co. I guess what they’re doing must be working, since they claim 160,000 people wanted to go to Burning Man this year. The well-crafted pop culture campaign mixing print media, references in The Simpsons and other mainstream shows, celebrity endorsements from P.Diddy and politicians and Generals, has all combined to make it harder than it’s ever been before for Burners to go to Black Rock City. We’re hearing reports that many camps have been absolutely decimated this year by the Hellish ticket situation, even if they were on the list. And it can only get worse, not better.

Not to worry, we’re told: “just be After-Burners now“. A bit too old, a bit too jaded, don’t really care if you can’t afford a ticket any more, just look back fondly on your time there – and make way for the starry-eyed virgins and cashed-up yuppies to arrive. The borg wants new minds to mold.

Clearly, there’s no need for any more promotion. So, junkets. Panel discussions. Is it promoting regionals? Is it asking for donations?

The mission of The Burning Man Project (from Guidestar):

Burning Man Project provides the infrastructural tools, educational programs, art programs and other frameworks that allow people around the world to apply the 10 principles of Burning Man in many communities and fields of human endeavor.

And, buried within their new web site (to find it I clicked Menu, The Culture, Philosophical Center, About Us – a faster way would be Menu, The Network, About Us):

Mission

The mission of the Burning Man organization is to facilitate and extend the culture that has issued from the Burning Man event into the larger world. This culture forms an integrated pattern of values, experience, and behavior: a coherent and widely applicable way of life.

Vision

The Burning Man organization will bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems and inspire a sense of culture, community and personal engagement.

So, is that working? Are We The Burners, through this our community vehicle, bringing experiences to people, and inspiring awe? Are the ambassadors representing us and our values, or speaking for themselves?

See for yourself and please let us know in the comments.

Who gave the best talk? Who best represents Burner values to the world? We report, you decide…

Harley Dubois at The Feast, 2014

Crimson Rose, 2009

Crimson Rose, Panel Discussion, 2014

Will Roger, 2014

http://guides.library.unr.edu/burningman/BurningMan/WillRoger

Bear Kittay TEDxTokyo (and Robot), 2014

Bear Kittay TEDxBlack Rock City – 2014?

Bear Kittay TEDxOaxacaca, 2013

Bear Kittay TEDxStockholm, 2015

Larry Harvey, TEDxBlack Rock City, 2011

Larry Harvey, Charlie Rose 2014

Larry Harvey, Le Web London 2013

Larry Harvey, John Perry Barlow, Le Web London 2013

Marian Goodell, TEDxBay Area 2014

Marian Goodell, TEDxTokyo, 2014

Chip Conley and Marian Goodell at the Commonwealth Club, 2014:

Larry Harvey, Marian Goodell, Jenn Sander, Kelly Anders in Paris, 2013:

Danger Ranger, San Mateo 2014

Burner Julia Wolfe, age 9

What do you think, Burners? Should we donate so there can be even more promotion of Burning Man, so it gets even harder to get tickets?

Who is representing Burner values to the world the best?